When Susie Smith was called back after her annual mammogram early last year, she didn’t think anything was unusual when told they needed another look.
“I didn’t think anything of it,” said the Lubbock National Bank vice president of the day she had a second mammogram and sonogram done.
But the results were inconclusive, so she had a biopsy done a few days later.
They found cancer – and before a month passed, Susie had a double mastectomy with reconstruction – a surgery that took almost four hours.
“I was walking around after the surgery and all was fine,” she said.
Then Susie’s story “took some turns most people don’t have to go through.”
Five days later she was in the emergency room with blood clots in her lungs and legs.
She spent 11 days in the hospital as doctors dealt with an enormous hematoma that formed behind the right expander, put in place for eventual implants.
“It was kind of a roller coaster,” said Susie. “They had to let me heal from surgery so no blood thinners for 24 hours. Then back on blood thinners.”
“The blood clots threw me for a loop. That time in the hospital was a very tough time because you’re afraid to move because of the blood clots. I was on monitors for 24 hours a day for all 11 days. The doctors said I could walk, but you also hear you could die from these things in your legs and lungs so you’re afraid to move,” she said.
She went through a second surgery to remove the hematoma – a mass of fluid.
Then a couple of months later, the right expander started to poke through her skin and that was removed during a third surgery.
But there’s more.
“Once all the pathology came back, the surgeon did not do tests for sentinel lymph nodes – so 33 radiation procedures followed over the summer as a precautionary measure,” she said.
Fast forward to October to replace the expander – then April of this year to remove the expanders and the next stage of reconstruction. The third stage of reconstruction followed in August.
Fortunately, Susie did not have to do chemotherapy – but she remained on blood thinners for more than a year.
How did she deal with all of this?
“When I first heard the words cancer, I had my little breakdown for a few minutes,” said Susie.
“I wasn’t going to beat this alone, it was in God’s hands and I turned it over to him.”
“I kept a positive attitude and laughter helped,” she said, adding support from family, friends, and prayer warriors from Lakeridge Methodist Church, Llano Estacado Emmaus Community and numerous other support groups was huge.
And she had her LNB family.
She had most of her surgeries on a Tuesday or Wednesday and would be back at work the next Monday, where she handles operations and compliance for the asset management department. Or, as she says, “making sure everything is done right in the trust department.”
“I would take an extended lunch and a short nap. I wanted to be here. I could have taken off as long as needed, but I’d be bored sitting around the house,” said Susie.
“This is a great company to work for. I like the environment of Lubbock National … just a family, that’s what it is,” she said.
“I needed to be here,” she added, saying it gave her a sense of normalcy and got her mind off the medical roller coaster she rode for months and months.
“After the last surgery I’m at a new normal and the new normal is OK,” said Susie.
Christopher Robinson, Susie’s supervisor and senior vice president - asset management, said, “Susie is a vital member of our team. With focus and determination, she works hard to keep our department in compliance. She has blended that same determination with her faith in God to boldly and effectively battle breast cancer. Her courage and strength of character are an encouragement and testimony of faith to those of us who have the privilege to work with her.”
And, as she points out, “I did not let it slow me down.”
“You could still find me at Lake Alan Henry during all of this – we’d go down with the boat,” she said. She now loves to ride the mountain bike trails with her son. But that’s not all.
“During this whole process, the blessings have been tremendous. For example:
Susie and her husband Rod grew up together in Hamlin, Texas and have three children.
There’s a story that Rod came home from kindergarten and his mom and older brother asked him if he had a girlfriend. He said yes, as Susie tells the story, “he said her name is Susie Smith – he had already changed my last name and told them he was going to marry me.”
They started dating the day before high school.
“We were always friends,” said Susie, who added by 8th grade she knew he really liked her as more than friends.
She came to Tech, got a degree in finance and just stayed.
Susie’s been with LNB 12 years.
Like many Lubbock National Bank employees, Susie gives back to the community and her experience aimed her toward the Susan G. Komen Lubbock affiliate, which raises money and awareness to fight breast cancer.
She serves on Komen’s board as the grants chair – “my sister-in-law’s sister-in-law was president of the board and pulled me along,” she said.
She’s served on Komen’s In The Pink committee fundraiser and as a committee member for Komen’s Laugh for the Cure.
After Susie’s ordeal, she can understand what women are going through and has talked to a few women one on one.
“You can find strength from others and it’s nice to know what you’re saying helps someone else,” she said.
And at the recent Race For The Cure in Lubbock, Susie said there was a woman who has been a breast cancer survivor for 56 years.
“We know there’s hope out there,” she said.